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Aid workers released in Myanmar after pardon, U.N. says

By Jethro Mullen, CNN
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed August 29, 2012
  • The three workers are released after a pardon from the president, a U.N. official says
  • They had been sentenced to prison on Friday in the state of Rakhine
  • Scores of people died in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine in June

Hong Kong (CNN) -- Myanmar has released three aid workers, including two U.N. employees, who received prison sentences after being detained amid sectarian clashes that killed scores of people in the west of the country in June, a U.N. spokesman said Wednesday.

A court in the town of Maungdaw in Rakhine State sentenced the three local aid workers to time in prison on Friday.

Myanmar court sentences 3 aid workers to prison, U.N. says

But they have now been released after President Thein Sein issued a statement on his website late Tuesday pardoning them, said Aye Win, the spokesman for the United Nations in Myanmar.

One of the aid workers is from the U.N. refugee agency, one is from the U.N. World Food Program and the other is from a nongovernmental organization affiliated with the refugee agency, according to Aye Win.

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The United Nations had struggled to obtain details on the length of the prison sentences and the charges the workers were convicted of because it didn't have access to the courtroom, he said. It had been unable to meet with them after they were taken into custody.

The United Nations said in July that about 10 aid workers had been detained for "questioning" by the authorities in Rakhine, where violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims caused havoc in June. The detained workers included employees of the United Nations and the aid group Doctors Without Borders.

Some of those being held were released, the United Nations said last week. But it noted that some workers remained in detention.

The communal violence in Rakhine resulted in the destruction of hundreds of homes and the displacement of tens of thousands of people, many of them members of the Rohingya, a stateless ethnic Muslim minority.

12 more die in sectarian violence in Myanmar

Rakhine is home for the Rohingya, who say they have been persecuted by the Myanmar military during its decades of authoritarian rule.

Many of them have fled into neighboring Bangladesh over the years. But the Bangladeshi government tried to prevent fleeing Rohingya from crossing the border from Myanmar during the recent outbreak of violence, saying it already had too many to deal with.

The Myanmar government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine at the time of the unrest, bringing in the military to help restore order.

Human rights advocates have accused the Myanmar authorities of cracking down particularly harshly on the Rohingya in the response to the unrest.

Aye Win of the United Nations declined to disclose the identities of the detained U.N. workers.

Myanmar sets up commission to probe clashes between Buddhists, Muslims

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